What Is a Good Body Fat Measurement?

Reviewed on 7/7/2021
body fat measurement
What is a good body fat percentage, and how can you calculate it?

Excess body fat increases your risk of developing certain health conditions, such as high cholesterol, which in turn makes you more likely to develop hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. Too much fat is also linked with inflammation, which is believed to be one of the factors that play a key role in the development of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease

So understanding how much fat you have in your body is important and can help you figure out your risk of developing certain illnesses. But what is a good fat measurement, and how can you calculate it?

What’s the difference between essential fat and stored fat?

First, it’s important to understand the principles of body fat. Body fat is a collection of stored energy, but not all of it is bad for your health. 

Essential fat

  • Comes from healthy sources, such as nuts, seeds, and oily fish, and gets metabolized in the body to promote normal functions. 
  • Helps protect the heart, brain, and other organs by forming a protective layer around them. It also acts as a natural insulator, protecting the body from the environment or cold conditions.
  • Helps the body process nutrients, such as fat-soluble vitamins A, K, and D.

Stored fat

There are only so many calories you use throughout the day for your activities. If you supply your body with more calories than it needs, the surplus calories get stored as fat in the body, predominantly in the abdomen

When stored fat isn’t burned off, it stays in the body as excess fat. And the more this builds up, the more the body gains weight.

What is a good body fat measurement?

There are two measurements you can use to check your body fat levels:

Waist to hip ratio (WHR)

Waist and hip measurements are the simplest ways to get an estimate of fat accumulation in your body because most of the body’s excess fats reside in these places. To calculate this ratio, you should first measure your waist circumference at its smallest part and your hip circumference at its widest part.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), healthy WHR is: 

  • 0.9 or less for men
  • 0.85 or less for women

Body fat percentage

Body fat percentage is the ratio of body fat to total body weight. The amount of fat differs between genders. Women tend to have more fat than men because they need more fat near their hips for childbirth. As you age, you can expect your body fat percentage to increase.

Good body fat measurement, on average, is follows:

  • Between 14%-31% for women
  • Between 6%-24% for men

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) gives the following ranges of body fat percentage according to population.

Table: Ranges of body fat percentage
Category Women (percent fat) Men (percent fat)
Essential fat 10-13 2-5
Athletes 14-20 6-13
Fitness 21-24 14-17
Acceptable 25-31 18-24
Obesity ≥32 ≥25

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How to calculate body fat percentage

While you can use other methods to calculate body fat percentage, they often vary in both ease of use and accuracy. To get the most accurate results, you can use devices designed to do this with only a small margin of error.

Calipers

Calipers are a traditional and inexpensive way of measuring body fat. You use the calipers to measure the skin folds at three specific locations in the body (differs according to gender). You then put the measurements in an online calculator to get your body fat percentage.

Smart scales and handheld scanners

Smart scales and handheld scanners are a bit more accurate in measuring body fat percentage. These portable devices also let you know the percentage of bone, muscle, and water in your body. They are pretty easy to use and most of them can be connected to an app where you can track the changes in your body fat percentage as well.

Hydrostatic weighing and dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA)

These options provide the most accurate data about body fat percentage but are not available for home use. They are expensive options that you can done get at a lab after a prescription from your doctor.

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References
Muth ND. What Are the Guidelines for Percentage of Body Fat Loss? American Council on Exercise. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/112/what-are-the-guidelines-for-percentage-of-body-fat-loss/

World Health Organization. Waist Circumference and Waist-Hip Ratio: Report of a WHO Expert Consultation. http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2011/9789241501491_eng.pdf

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